Before a philosophy of homegrown, however, we must have a philosophy of home. And here we are surely deficient. In a world of mobile phones, speeding vehicles, and success ladders, who wants to stay put?
We’ve found a frustration with our telephone. None of us has a cell phone (except for the one we use for Ozark Painting business). So when we take a call, it’s always in the house – so we miss a lot of calls (if we’re gone). Then recently, our portable home phone went on the fritz, so we had to revert to the corded version. So if you’re talking on the phone in our house, you’re in the middle of the living room, sitting on a stool or the ground (or standing). Everybody can listen to your conversation, and there’s little motivation to stay on the phone long. You can’t get anything else done.
Our corded phone roots us to a place in the house, whether we like it or not.
Industrialism (and post-industrialism) has uprooted us. Says the great Wendell Berry: “Industrialism prescribes an economy that is placeless and displacing.” And again, “To the corporate and political and academic servants of global industrialism, the small family farm and the small farming community are not known, not imaginable, and therefore unthinkable, except as damaging stereotypes. The people of ‘the cutting edge’ in science, business, education, and politics have no patience with the local love, local loyalty, and local knowledge that make people truly native to their places and therefore good caretakers of their places.“
I should probably just stop there (I can’t).
So knowing one’s home is the first (only) path to understanding and experiencing the home-grown. Perhaps one can know home in a year…two? A decade? More? And find me someone, under the age of 70, who has lived in one place for their entire life. Why does it matter? we ask. One place is no better than another. But thought of differently, in terms of dwelling: perhaps one place is better than two.
This, then, presumes that one can know a place simply by sitting on top of it. But the way we dwell has everything to do with knowing our dwelling-place.
The deeper we go into the dirt, the more we know a place? The more we bleed on it, for it? The more we sacrifice for it? How about variety – who knows his place better: the man who only gets on his land to mow the grass down, or the man who turns up the soil every year for a garden? And who knows his place better: the gardener, or the one who must live off of his garden? Surely the second must love it more. What about knowing the paths the deer take through the woods behind you, or how the seasons’ vicissitudes affect your garden yield? Must rootedness preclude discovery, or can not a man who has known a place for decades still dream about more, uncover more, be surprised by more?
What of the man who has run a barber shop in the same place for 40 years? Does he know that place, that town, better than the man trying to make a few bucks working at the Great Clips that went in down the street?
Doesn’t a local barbershop just intuitively feel more homegrown?
How do these questions sound today? Such inquiries are not only irrelevant, they are almost completely incomprehensible. They speak a language nearly unlearned by decades of so-called progress. Anyways, writes Mr. Berry, there has been no real progress, but history “has been the same story of the gathering of an exploitative economic power into the hands of a few people who are alien to the places and the people they exploit. Such an economy is bound to destroy locally adapted agrarian economies everywhere it goes, simply because it is too ignorant not to do so.”
Who knows where food comes from? I only learned recently that butter was simply made by distressing cream, and that cream was simply the lighter, fatty part of cow’s milk, that naturally rose to the top of the milk when undisturbed. We all know eggs come from chickens. Corn comes from stalks. Marshmallows come from…?
But who knows where their food comes from? Can you calculate the mileage in a meal? How about a salad from Wendy’s? Tomatoes grown in one state, lettuce grown in another. Cheese from Wisconsin cows, croutons from grain from the midwest and spices from who-knows where. Chicken chunks from chunky chickens raised in a warehouse in any state. Plastic fork and container from China, from petroleum under Saudi Arabia. Thousands…hundreds of thousands of miles, for a salad! This is a monumental feat, undoubtedly. But a worthwhile one?
Have we done better to globalize and grow, globalize and grow, urbanize and specialize, urbanize and specialize, industrialize and streamline, industrialize and streamline? “The industrial ‘solution’…is to increase the scale of work and trade. It is to bring Big Ideas, Big Money, and Big Technology into small rural communitites, economies, and ecosystems…The result is that problems correctable on a small scale are replaced by large-scale problems for which there are no large-scale corrections.” (Wendell Berry)
Thus, the practical dangers of industrialization and its displacedness. But what more? The poetic speaks of our risks and losses too…
The world is too much with us, late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away: a sordid boon!
Martin Heidegger writes of the boy on the Rhine River. The boy’s family has lived on the river for many generations. It has been to them a source of food, irrigation, transportation, perhaps dreamy inspiration or quiet meditation. But the dam is built on the Rhine now, and so the river is no longer a source of those things (primarily), but it is “that river with the dam.” The river gives, most importantly, electricity – “standing reserve” – it need not be what it is or was, it only must give us electrons. Now he buys his fish at the market, thinks rarely of the river except perhaps as a place to play or a nuisance in flood. Has the boy lost anything?
To a philosophy of homegrown, then. Or perhaps more of a manifesto. And brief.
Homegrown means known. It means the right kind of quality-control. Connectedness. It means depth in community. It means dreams, visions, and love. Also savoriness.
We need a place that we know. That place need not be large, but it can not be too small (I hereby ban all skyscrapers and land-less apartment units). There must be dirt. And we must do with that dirt all that we can do.
“…It is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state…” – Thomas Jefferson, 1785